Step-by-Step: Successive Processing

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.
— Lao Tzu

Wise teacher a very you and are knowledgeable! Though you might have felt a subtle sense of flattery after reading that sentence, it was probably pretty hard to understand. That is because the words are written out of order from our normal speaking pattern. Our ability to process information in sequence helps us learn successfully in and out of the classroom.  This skill, called Successive Processing, is the third ability in Dr. Jack Naglieri’s PASS theory on executive function which we have been looking at in our past two newsletters. Click here for access to previous newsletters with explanations of the first two abilities in the PASS theory.

Successive processing is the neurocognitive ability we use to linearly organize bits of information into a chainlike progression. “The order of words in sentences, mathematical procedures, multi-step directions, a series of digits such as a phone number and musical notes in a tune are all examples of stimuli that need to be processed successively” (“Common Concerns – Organizing and Processing,” n.d.).  Successive processing, like any other skill, is something with which our students will vary in their levels of mastery. Those students who have a weakness in this area will have the following struggles:

  • have difficulty memorizing math facts when learned by rote 
  • often forget the order of words or numbers
  • confuse the order in which tasks should be completed
  • have trouble sounding out words & decoding
  • find step-by-step directions hard to remember and follow
  • present ideas in a disorganized, out-of-sequence manner

As teachers we need to be transparent with our students about how they can bolster their ability to recognize sequence. Share think-alouds of your techniques for noticing and recalling sequence information.  “It would be difficult for me to remember the sequence of my social security numbers or phone numbers without grouping them into smaller chunks” (3-2-4 or 3-3-4 respectively).  Once we see sequences we can best recall them by rehearsing, elaborating, and using mnemonic strategies. For example, note the strategy you are using to perform a task, i.e. “Now that I see this sequence of numbers, I am going to lock it in by remembering it in smaller chunks.” 

Knowledge of their personal learning style can help students decide which methods they can use to improve their successive processing recall. (Here is a link to our website for access to a free multiple intelligence and learning style self-assessment. For example: if a student is a visual learner, then perhaps she could create flashcards with pictures on them to help her remember math facts in sequence. She would then be able to see that something like 2 cookies + 3 cookies = 5 cookies on her flashcard rather than just remembering and reciting the numbers in a rote fashion.  Other strategies: such as repeating step by step directions after they’re given, writing a word repeatedly, or grouping letters or numbers into smaller chunks to help with memorization can be explicitly taught as well. Students should try out a variety of methods like these to determine which ones are the most effective for them. 

Students should also be taught to recognize sequence as they read text, noting that words like “first,”  “second,” “next” and “finally”  are indicators of sequential text structure.    This knowledge will help them with writing in successive or sequential order. 

There are many different aspects to developing successful executive functioning skills. We can help our students develop all of these abilities if we, too, take it step-by-step. Infinite Horizons is here to support teachers along the way. Please download the poster that we’ve created to remind your students and you of the importance of successive processing.  You can find many more helpful tools for your teaching in our book entitled Differentiation in the Real Classroom

Next month, we’ll address the last ability of the PASS theory, Simultaneous Processing. 

Video of the Month:   Great TED Talk on the Teenage Brain